Day 13. Sunday May 26.
Our last full day in Iceland – on our way to the Faroe Islands tomorrow, and it’s nice that The Weekend Australian has chosen to do a feature on that destination this weekend. It was somewhat disturbing: ‘To help mitigate the impact, the islands’ Prime Minister, Aksel V. Johannesen, announced last month that major tourist areas were being shut for a weekend. At the same time, he offered “voluntourists” free room and board for the two days if they came to mend paths, build cairns and dig drainage trenches.’ Not quite what we had in mind, but T is pretty good with a shovel.
Yesterday, T discovered a fellow wool tragic who dyes her own wool, using a variety of witch’s brews, chemistry and some other additives, all foraged from Icelandic plants apart from indigo and cochineal (sourced via internet) – all the while being very careful of the impact that waste products might have on the environment. And she has a studio only 15 mins from our apartment! Gudrun was totally flexible about our visit (arranged on Saturday evening and scheduled for Sunday morning), despite the official opening season for her studio being 1 June, and was happy to add us in with a group of Americans who were due to arrive on a special tour this morning. We really hoped to get in and out before the Americans.
We duly pulled in at 9.45 – exactly between the 9.30 and 10 indicated (D was driving – what else did you expect?).
No Americans. We were approved by her Border Collie/Labrador cross dog, who apparently vetted all visitors and would only let in those who smelled right.
Still no Americans by about 10.15, so Gudrun decided to start her spiel without them. D suggested that they might have had a night on the town in Reykjavik, but this was dismissed as unlikely, with Gudrun offering the more likely scenario that they’d detoured into Borgarnes to use the toilets, as was usually the case with her visitors who were over 50 years old. She also said that when and if they did arrive, half would immediately head for the loo and the other half to cluck at the chickens.
Gudrun lectures in botany (and a few other related things we think) at the nearby Agricultural University. She developed this passion for dyeing, and in particular using mostly traditional Icelandic materials and methods, when doing her Masters in Science: ‘my interest significantly delayed the completion of my thesis’.
T was wrapt and was mentally already planning how she could have a workshop like Gudrun’s – D’s workshop in the garage is under siege.
We received about a 40 minute interactive brief until the Americans eventually arrived, covering the process, the chemistry, the passion and quite a few tangential topics. And yes, the Americans did pretty much as predicted. We took the opportunity to leave, T armed with a few treasures.
We headed for Stykkisholmur, a port town on the northern coastline of this beautiful Snaefellsnes Peninsula. T had read about a Library of Water there, a special church and the fact that the town was renowned for its architectural restoration/preservation.
Again we were blessed with an endless blue sky and bright sunshine (lap it up we think, as tomorrow will be different). The church was indeed marvellous and not a crucifix in sight, not even in the steeple, instead three bells. Inside, the effect would be extraordinary with darkness and the pendant lights.
Strolling through the town and port was like stepping into a children’s picture book! Traditional architecture, exquisitely restored, not a blade of anything out of place (no litter) and the sea views were magic. It’s another fishing town and yes, the crates full of fish and ice were forklifted about.
Up to the Library of Water…an art installation created by Roni Horn of 24 ceiling to floor glass cylinders, each filled with water from a different melting glacier and the floor embossed with words relating to weather – one of the cylinders being of historic significance as it is all that remains of a glacier that has disappeared. Again, the effect was extraordinary and the views beyond the room out across the sea spectacular.
We were the only visitors; a couple of young guys who stepped into the gallery asked Renata, the gallery attendant ’What is this?’ Renata attempted an explanation but then came their next question: ‘Is this art?’ Renata said, ‘Yes’ and the guys quickly turned around and departed. Clearly, art was not on their agenda today.
It was easy to engage Renata in much more than gallery talk – like another South American close to us, she enjoys a good conversation. She is a Brazilian girl, now married to a fisherman and living in Stykkish, only from a few years ago. When asked how she finds the change, she happily described the way shehas changed her husband: she remarked on the relationship between Icelanders and alcohol and the liberal behavior of the women, in particular. She has no children, just a stepson – and that is quite enough – but she claimed that Icelanders did have large families of three to six kids. She referred to Icelandic women as being ‘complicated’ and for that reason many men choose to remain single…at least that’s D’s interpretation of Renata’s account. He also reckons that it’s not all that difficult to live with a complicated woman.
Mid- afternoon and feeling peckish, we followed Renata’s advice and went back to the wharf to the fish and chips van. D enjoyed his fish: T remarked that there is always something of a gap between the idea of fish and chips and the reality: is she complicated?
Some impressions of Iceland, gathered in our eight days here, and therefore very much initial thoughts:
- It’s been our experience that Icelanders initially appear aloof, usually not returning casual greetings, but if engaged they respond politely and eagerly often wanting to continue a conversation beyond the inquiry. They have invariably been helpful.
- Iceland is a beautiful, unspoiled country and its people seem to really cherish it. There was virtually no litter of any sort and houses/apartments are well maintained.
- Everything is expensive in our terms, up to three times what we’d expect to pay back home. That may be a result of higher wages, or maybe there’s compensation because some essentials (power and heating in particular) are low because of geo-thermal energy production;
- Anecdotally (several times, and unsolicited), over-consumption of alcohol is a problem: we didn’t experience that at all (T has just chortled);
- Tourism is a (the?) major money earner, but Iceland has a small population, about the same as Canberra. Tourist numbers could, as in other prime locations such as Venice, end up being a curse rather than a blessing. We did not enjoy the experience on the Golden Circle as much as our trips in the west due to the press of numbers, all out to get the best selfie (apart from us, of course: we’re different!) Staying at a small town away from the capital also gave us a sense of living in the community, albeit in a limited way – we did wave to the neighbours a couple of times;
- Driving was easy, after getting used to being on the wrong side of the road – and D was once. It appears that speed limits are only advisory, just like in Canberra. However, drivers were very patient and forgiving: we didn’t hear aggressive horn- blowing or see angry gestures at all, even when it might have seemed inevitable.
- Fresh food, particularly meat, was limited. Most meat (fish, chicken, red meat) was frozen, and we think mostly imported from the UK.
We loved it.